June 2021 was drawing to a close, which meant the third of our AWC Summer Read-Around Sessions was also fast approaching. Writing-wise, I had a couple of pieces bubbling away, but nothing near completion, so it would be listening / feedback duty only for me as I scribbled notes for the blog.
Logging on to Zoom just before 7.30pm, two things became apparent very quickly; firstly, this read-around was going to be a more intimate affair than usual, and secondly, mid-summer spirits appeared to have warned our male friends to stay away! Six smiling ladies appeared on the screen in addition to my cheery face, five of whom had pieces they wanted to share on this read-around. After a few minutes of greetings and general catch-up (plus a sneaky cheer from myself when the Euro football tournament was inevitably mentioned), Jeanette delved into her magic bag of numbers and established the running order for the evening.
First out of the hat, sorry, bag, was Linda, with a recent non-fiction piece that she had submitted to the Scottish Book Trust’s annual writing project: “Your Stories”. The theme was “Celebration”, slightly ironic given Linda acknowledged she wrote and submitted the piece just minutes before the deadline after a difficult week! Entitled Launching Chaos, Linda’s tale told the story of “Chaos”, the family’s vintage cabin cruiser, from purchase through to maiden voyage. Initially apprehensive in tone, Linda told us of a purchase made at auction, amid fears of bankruptcy and rusty goods, of a vessel so small you couldn’t even swing spaghetti in the galley. Linda went on to describe the effort made by the family to get the cruiser ship shape inside and out until, finally, it was ready for its first trip. An exciting time for all, except that Linda was scared of the sea and had not set sail since visiting Belfast, and the Titanic Museum, back in 1999!
Launch day arrived with Loch Earn being the location of choice for Chaos’ maiden journey. Linda took us with her and her other half as they sailed over the water, using some beautiful phrases to describe the changing scenery along the banks of the loch. As the journey continued, Linda realised her initial fear had subsided, replaced with a sense of contentment and joy at being on the water. In recognition of this, the Browns rechristened their cruiser “Serendipity” and toasted their successful sailing with slightly melted chocolate teacakes! (That explains Linda’s choice of biscuit in a recent read-around!) On finishing her tale, the rest of us acknowledged how topical the story was, given the increase in “stay-cations” and camper van adventures, etc, and how much we had enjoyed the simplicity of the piece – a lovely way to kick off the evening.
Next up was Marion, with a flash-fiction piece called The Home-coming. This short tale told the story of Edith on the afternoon that her beloved Fred was coming home. Having set up the table for tea, complete with a sponge cake made from the last of her rations, she puts on hat and lipstick and sets out for the crowded train station to welcome back Fred, her heart bursting as she finally spots him. Marion wondered if she needed to expand on the Fred character; however, we felt it worked well with the limited details already in the story, and that the writing should be left as was, apart from a small edit regarding a duplication of words. The imagery created by Marion’s subtle phrasing was evocative and reflected a time gone by without needing any obvious statements, which only added to the poignancy of the twist that came at the end. (Sorry, no spoilers here, you’ll have to ask Marion for another reading if you want to know how this tale ends).
Deep breaths taken to move on from Marion’s emotional piece, we turned to Greta for a little light relief in the form of a real-life anecdote. Having had her poem, The Bogle, published in Lallans magazine, Greta received an unexpected email from one of the “Rhyme and Reason” actors (I’ll call him Ted), asking if they could read out the said poem at an up-and-coming Poetry event. Naturally, Greta agreed, and got the invitation to attend the event remotely from her living room, only to discover the poetry reading clashed with both Greta’s wedding anniversary and the Scottish Cup Final! Come the day, Greta logged on to the event whilst her husband resigned himself to watching the football on mute! All went well, with Ted bringing theatrical richness to Greta’s poem until, alas, a muddle at the end sent both words and rhyme astray! The “New Beginnings” in her piece had found a new ending! Fortunately, Greta found the situation amusing rather than being offended, and has treasured the recording ever since. Again, if you want to know Ted’s real name, you’ll need to have a chat with Greta – I’m not embarrassing the man on our blog…!
By this point we were approaching our usual break time of 8.30pm, but agreed we would forgo the extra cup of tea this evening and push on through to an early finish. Our penultimate reader was Damaris, with another of her popular tales from Umbria. This one concerned a Romanian shepherd called Gogu (hopefully I’ve got that right!), who asked his cousin where to find a suitable wife once Gogu was no longer a shepherd. The cousin recommended Italy, where “the women scrubbed up well, despite their fine black moustaches”, and so began a new chapter in Gogu’s life. Initially successful selling cheese from the goats and sheep on his rundown Italian farm, he slowly alienated the locals and eventually abandoned the farm to settle in the mountains with a “Battle axe woman” who “worked like a donkey”!
As with Damaris’ previous stories, the tale flowed with a lyrical feel and rich imagery, generating the comment that the story sounded like an old folk tale. There was also some discussion on publishing her work, following Damaris confirming she had now written 14 of the planned 16 stories involving Umbria. One suggestion was to investigate turning it into an audio book for radio, similar to the short stories that get read on Radio 4, or to look at charity-based publications, such as the Ox-Tales books from Oxfam.
The final author of the night was Jean, entertaining us with a non-fiction piece on one of her day trips when visiting a friend in Japan. Initially taking in the sights of the high, austere, city tower blocks, Jean unexpectedly came across a small, ancient-looking building nestled between the sky scrapers. Using some beautiful descriptive language, Jean painted a picture of a traditional Japanese pagoda that must have once been surrounded by similar buildings, the inhabitants living a very different life from the modern rat race of today. The imagery continued as we discovered the building was a cramped bookshop, overflowing with books and towers of papers. The visit was a successful one, with Jean purchasing a book on birds as a gift for her friend, communicating her request to the surprised shopkeeper via the universal mime of birds – the flapping of arms, an image that I found particularly amusing!
Jean’s tale naturally set off a discussion on our love of second-hand bookshops; however, we did manage to give a little bit of feedback before finishing up for the evening, such as editing the first paragraph a little to get to the bookshop more quickly. A couple of us felt there was the air of a children’s tale about the piece – we half expected the bookshop to disappear at the end – and there were also comments on the similarity to Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter stories, where the entrance to the wizarding world opens up between two London buildings.
Hence, we came to the end of our unexpected ladies’ night. My head was once again full of great stories, and a couple more ideas for writing had been triggered off. It may have been slightly different to those heady evenings with the girls back in my youth – I hadn’t danced for hours in 3-inch heels, for example – but I still ended up pretty merry.